Portugal forest fires - Summer 2005
In 2005 fires ravaged a number of European forests. Many
acres of Europe’s most southern woodlands were destroyed,
especially in Portugal. France, Greece, Italy and Spain were
also affected by forest fires, however to a somewhat lesser
extent. Most of southern Europe had experienced record temperatures
in early August due to a heat-wave from Africa. Moreover Portugal,
Spain and France suffered a severe drought. For Portugal,
this was the worst drought on record.
Twenty-one fires started in early August. By 15 September
2005 236,834 hectares of forests were eaten up by flames.
This roughly corresponds to the size of Luxembourg. In financial
terms, the economic damage was estimated at €744 million.
13 Portuguese lost their lives, including 10 fire-fighters.
Request for assistance
In view of the extent of the disaster, Portugal was the
only of those countries affected by forest fires that triggered
the Community Civil
Protection Mechanism that year. On 20 August 2005, the
Portuguese authorities requested assistance through the Community
Civil Protection Mechanism. In his comments to the media the
Portuguese Prime Minister Josι Socrates, commented that Portugal
asked the European Union for reinforcements as the resources
at Portugal's disposal were no longer enough to fight all
of the fires.
MIC immediately forwarded the call for assistance to participating
states. The situation was brought under control on 29 August,
while the emergency was officially closed on 7 September 20005.
Within a few hours, several participating states – France,
Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and Norway
– were already able to offer assistance in addition to the
work of Portuguese forces. France, Italy supplied a total
of 3 water-bombing aircraft supporting a Spanish aircraft
that was offered bilaterally. Germany and the Netherlands
provided a total of 9 specialised helicopters. The assistance
from Slovakia and Norway was considered no longer necessary
by Portugal because the situation had by then been bought
under control. A number of
satellite images were also obtained by the MIC from the
International Charter (Space and Major Disasters) for
better monitoring of the emergency.
The 2005 Portuguese forest fires were a clear example of
European solidarity at its best. Portugal had reached a critical
stage of the emergency. The damage it was sustaining in human,
environmental and economic cost was reaching terrible proportions.
Through a swift operation, facilitated by the MIC, Portugal's
forest fires where smothered in a few days, bringing this
disaster to an end.
When the fires were considerably mitigated, Portugal asked
on the Mechanism partners to assist it with a one-month stand-by
force to put out fires promptly. As most of the participating
states were however dealing with fires back in their own country,
the response was not as overwhelming as for the initial request
for assistance. The assistance eventually offered by Italy
and Greece did not cover the time-period requested either.
To this effect, the proposals put forward in a
Communication, eventually leading to a proposal for the
recast of the Mechanism legislation, could have helped
the country in need.